Digital marketing is the future for dealers

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In February, the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) presented its latest Digital Dealer conferences in Ottawa and Toronto.

This was the third series of conferences that the TADA has hosted on the topic of digital marketing trends affecting dealers and consumers. Both events were well attended by dealer principals, marketing personnel, IT professionals and industry representatives.

The conferences touched on several themes that new car dealers are struggling with these days: namely, how to leverage Google, Facebook and other online platforms to connect with customers and prospects; and how to become more relevant in an increasingly noisy world.

One of the guest speakers was an expert on Google and discussed how the world’s dominant search engine is constantly tweaking its algorithms to make searching for information more efficient and relevant for consumers and businesses (dealerships).

He talked about the importance of doing things right online to gain relevance and improve rankings on Google, such as maintaining a proper website (refreshing content on a regular basis), linking with key suppliers and partner organizations, being active on review sites, and engaging with audiences across multiple platforms.

Another speaker discussed strategies for using digital marketing to connect with visible minorities. He explained that knowing the cultural backgrounds of customers can play an influential role in selling to customers and maintaining long-term relationships.

He emphasized that there is a right and wrong way to greet customers from various ethnic backgrounds, and how easy it is to offend by not being aware of cultural behaviours and expectations.

The number of online and mobile marketing options available to dealers today is truly staggering. Dealers have dozens of ways to find and engage with customers, from social networking and customer review sites, search engine optimization (SEO) and electronic newsletters to blogs, videos, live chat, mobile marketing campaigns, texting, etc.

For the uninitiated, digital/mobile options can appear bewildering. But the speakers at both conferences described in detail how to get established on various platforms and provided practical advice about how to use those platforms to engage with audiences.

A representative from Facebook said that the Internet today is being rebuilt around people and referred to the popular social networking site as a “customized newspaper on the web,” which has the potential to influence car buying decisions.

He explained the potential of Facebook in helping dealerships build relationships with customers by sharing “brand relevant” content.

Seventy-one per cent of Facebook users would buy a product based on comments on social media.

Studies show that 18 million Canadians are currently using Facebook, and that 83 per cent of internet users in Canada use Facebook on a regular basis. Two thirds of Canadian Internet users are on mobile devices.

During the presentations, one observation became glaringly obvious: a couple of years ago, it may have been OK for dealers to ignore digital and mobile applications and strategies. Not anymore.

Today, car shoppers are increasingly savvy about finding information and are increasingly reliant on recommendations from friends, peers and colleagues about what brands to buy and where to shop (especially for automobiles).

While speaking with other dealers and colleagues about digital marketing these days, I sense a growing need for a dedicated Internet department and marketing personnel to handle all of the online responsibilities.

Mastering the art of digital marketing is becoming (if it hasn’t already) a highly specialized discipline that requires people with a high degree of skill and understanding of online tools and technologies.

As the speakers at the Digital Dealer conferences made clear, the online world is changing very fast. If dealers and manufacturers aren’t staying on top of the latest digital trends, they run the risk of falling behind and becoming irrelevant.

This column represents the view of TADA. Email or visit Frank Romeo, president of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, is a new car dealer in the GTA.

  • Digital marketing is the future for dealers

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